I appreciate that the insiders at Facebook, twitter, and that gang of 2.0 suspects are making money from Social Media, so there’s definitely some there, there. However, for the great remnant of those left behind, I remain unconvinced of the New New Thing. Look now at Al Gore and his latest mediated 2.0 foray into the Climate Change Wars.
At ClimateRealityProject.org, Mr. Gore is running a 24 hour 2.0 telethon to save the Earth, but instead of Jerry Lewis and panels of phone banks with retirees waving at the camera, he’s using all the spells and incantations made possible through the wizardry of the world wide web. It is a cool web site. Here’s the landing page on September 15, 2011 at 4:50pm Eastern. (Click to enlarge all the CRP images.)
Look at all the great features. The page design is clean and even with a great deal going on, the page is easy to understand and navigate. There’s a continuous twitter feed box on the right, a live video of the current presenter, that top line with 24 hour increments for the various presentations, and great action buttons at the bottom of the screen shot, Join Us, Take Action, Donate. If you hover on one of those buttons, you get more info on the screen, like this for Join Us.
All those 2.0 platforms including doggy old email for all those Father’s Oldsmobile drivers. And just a click, baby, just a click connects you. Consider here the Take Action options.
That “donate your Facebook page” option is an interesting wrinkle. You can give access to your Facebook page to the ClimateReality effort which means they can push their content through your page and you don’t have to do anything technical to enable this. Man, talk about immediately and wildly increasing Exposure and potential Reception here. Wow. In real time, the ClimateReality website can broadcast out through literally thousands of Facebook pages. ClimateReality notes that this option reaches nearly 4 million Facebook friends. Thus, ClimateReality reached people well beyond their website and pushed their message in real time to several million potential viewers through their Facebook friends.
So, ClimateReality dances along the cutting edge of Web 2.0 with a topic obviously aimed at persuasion and behavior change. The design and content of the site shouts its expertise. And, they kicked the digital bar up a notch with that groovy Facebook donation. Does it get any better than this?
At first pass, I’d guess many observers think Gore and ClimateReality hit the mark, but let’s think about it with a maven’s skepticism.
How much Exposure/Reception did they really get?
Al Gore is an automatic Exposure Machine for Climate Change. He can grab a podium anytime and any place and get attention. In part he has built a PR echo chamber that reflexively covers him which in turn attracts more attention from other relatively independent sources. Thus, because the Activist Green Machine dotes on Gore, they fire up their networks which attracts Mainstream Media. That’s good.
What’s bad about this, however, is that Gore and the Green Machine have been crying Weather Wolf for so long, all that Automatic Exposure tends to get dismissed quickly. Oh, Him Again. An old Petty and Cacioppo study manipulated frequency of viewings and found that boomerang effect occurred fairly quickly. Mr. Gore clearly understands this, which explains in part that brilliant Facebook donation play. Consider it.
Sure, many people who donate their FB page are committed Green and all their friends know it and it’s also likely that many of those friends are also true Green. But realize that even within the well established Interpersonal Similarity Effect (birds of a feather flock together), those Facebook networks must include additional non-Green friends. Thus, Gore enhances his Automatic Exposure (and Oh, Him Again) machine with a pushed message through Facebook to friends of friends.
This is fabulous persuasion. The best way for a stranger to reach other strangers is through the friends of those strangers. Gore is getting his message out to non-Green strangers, but moderated and mediated by those intervening FB friends. Imagine that you opened your Facebook page and read on the Wall an Al Gore Climate Change message through one of your friends. You may have some kind of biased response (that Oh Him Again), but there’s a reasonable chance you might have read it with that general friendly openness you typically feel when reading the Wall. Hey, how are your friends doing today? From such a perspective, you tend to have a more relaxed and open mind. Gore’s message is more likely to slide in here and motivate some kind of favorable Reception from you.
But, just to stay skeptical, how much more Reception? On the day of the big event, the ClimateReality website figured that 4 million FB friends got a message on their Walls. According to official Facebook statistics, the average user has 130 friends. That means about 30,000 people donated their page to Gore. Out of 750 million available accounts, Gore got 30 thousand, or expressed as a percentage, 0.004%! Stated another way, 99.996% of Facebook accounts did not donate for an Al Gore message. And, let’s get even more depressed. Facebook is the home of the young, the hip, the technological; it should be pretty Green compared to the nonFacebook world. So even in a barrel full of fish, Gore’s message is only shooting 0.004%.
Here’s another way to think about Exposure and Reception. The following graphic shows the Google Trends for three topics, Mr. Gore’s Climate Reality Project (blue), Palestinian Statehood (red), and the TV Emmy Awards (yellow) over the past 30 days.
The two panels provide comparison of the amount of searching and the number of news stories on these three issues. Clearly the Emmy Awards dominate and the other issues, not so much. Now, you can go to Google Trends and compare other issues against Climate Reality Project for your own delight. Mr. Gore claims that his issue threatens life as we know it, yet he can’t beat an awards show and a recurring geo-political hot button for attention. Again, please pick other topics that you think provide appropriate control for comparison. It appears that Gore can make noise that gets some attention at a fairly high level in the iceberg of public awareness, but he’s pretty much sitting on top of the peak with the vast amount of attention devoted to issues that by Gore’s definition are trivial.
Now, as a maven I ask, what’s this event done for Facebook?
Three elements trouble me. First, why is Facebook itself allowing this? Facebook has fought to restrict the use and content of its platform for people trying to do things like this. The obvious motivation is the technological complication such combinations create – they have the potential to wreck normal Facebook operations through overloaded servers. And, less obvious is the motivation that somebody takes over the Facebook network for their own purposes, in essence putting up a new poster on the Facebook billboard. Facebook had to cooperate very closely with ClimateReality on this one.
Second, they will now confront a new day when other Do Gooder types clamor for this clever trick for their advocacy. How will Facebook resist this, especially without offending people on a hot button issue like Global Warming or Abortion or Guns or Gay Rights or on and on with the litany of burning injustice.
Third and finally, Facebook has now made a major political stand on a specific issue and taken a specific position on that issue. Facebook is Progressive Green. That is groovy in many quarters, if only as a cultural truism along with brushing your teeth, looking both ways, and calling you in the morning. As long as the opinion really doesn’t count and requires no consequence, most people are Green, but when you start talking money, time, or abuse, the long Green line suddenly gets shorter than the autograph queue for Heidi and Spencer.
So, Facebook made a major change in its usage agreement and jumped the broom on a hot button issue, and in return got, what? Not even 1% of their account holders donated to that hot button issue. Here’s (YouTube) what that looks and sounds like.
Is that going to help their IPO when and if that day ever arrives?
Note that on September 14, 2011 Facebook announced yet another delay in their inexorable march to the Big Pay Day, putting off their IPO for some time later in 2012. This follows a long string of delays. Maybe, they’ve decided they will never go public and will now become authentic in their politics.
Let’s get out of here.
Mr. Gore is clearly failing to save the planet. He can’t even play big through Facebook, that barrel of supportive fish, much less be more than a dot on an iceberg of awareness. Thus, as a persuasion maven, I think Mr. Gore fails with the public TACTs he seeks (global behavior change with energy and environment). He’s certainly the most famous source here, but he’s also not close to achieving his publicly stated goals.
Of course, it is possible that Mr. Gore is persuading a different set of TACTs with his Green Machine. Gore estimated his net worth as between 1-2 million dollars on his required Federal government disclosure forms in 2000, the year he lost his bid for the White House. Ten years later it is estimated he’s worth over $100 million. If Mr. Gore’s strategic persuasion plan aimed him at earning a fortune, then I would revise my evaluation of his status and class him as a serious maven. His Web 2.0 efforts, while failing at the global standard he publicly declares, certainly hit the mark for the more prosaic benefits of wealth.
Past Mr. Gore, consider the communication and persuasion lessons with Facebook. That 750 million accounts with half active on a daily basis sounds like the channel with the biggest megaphone in the history of human civilization. But when you look at, rather than listen to, all the noise, you don’t see much persuasive impact, most particularly on downstream behavior change for the public Green agenda. Realize too that Green has been operating in the most favorable national political context with President and both Houses of Congress controlled by the most sympathetic Party for two years and still dominated by that Party today. Whatever Green victories you may count, they amount to little more than spitting into a very cold wind despite all the obvious advantages.
Regardless of the Truth here, the persuasion facts argue that there’s something different going on with Facebook, Al Gore, and Climate Change advocacy. The surface looks bright, but then you realize that it reflects; it does not reveal.